I was always an athletic kid growing up in Miami, where we could play sports year-round, and after trying a few, I fell in love with baseball. Ever since I can remember, my calendar was full from January to December with Spring league, Summer League, travel ball and Winter leagues.
Throughout my younger years I was the kid in the "husky" size pants and the last to return from long runs at practice, but it never really bothered me as I had the skills to keep up with my teammates. As I got older, I was lucky enough to put in the work and have great coaches to develop my skill enough to make my high school team. This is probably a common age where teenage boys become aware of their body type, size, and begin to compare themselves to others. For me, I never really struggled from a body image perspective; however, I did become aware that my performance lacked due to my physical composition.
I will never forget one summer, in high school, training with my travel team, we were asked to jog for 20 minutes straight. To me, it might as well have been a week. I struggled to keep going after the 5-minute mark, walked to the 7-minute mark, and had to have a coach and teammates drag me to finish. That moment sparked the realization that I needed to change something, but what, and how? Internet searches and confiding in friends led me to some decent sources of information such as bodybuilding.com, menshealth, and other mainstream "fitness" blogs. I was searching for the quick fix, the 8-minute abs, the "magic" pill, literally. From the time I graduated high school to when I entered college, I tried any and all protein powders, pre- workout supplements, thermogenic pills, and other products that promised weight loss or muscle building.
Writing this now makes me realize how much of a waste of time, money and energy that was. What I really needed was someone to school me on the foundations of nutrition.
Growing up, we never really had desserts or candies in the house, and a home cooked, family dinner was pretty much the norm. However, sodas, "sports" drinks, refined breads, and white rice were consumed pretty often, and why not. Soda was deemed to be part of a balanced diet, sports drinks were supposed to be replenishing all the "stuff" my body lost while working out, and the breads and rice were at the bottom of the food pyramid. Fat was supposed to make me fat, so of course I incorporated low fat yogurts and plenty of low fat, processed cheeses. According to the standard American diet, I was doing everything right. So now that I thought I had my diet down, changing up my workout routine would definitely help me achieve my goals. Needless to say, despite my experimentation with varying workout routines throughout my college years; bodybuilding, half-marathon running, swimming, or spinning, the weight never really faded and my body wasn't performing any better. I typically plateaued, got bored of the workout routine, and basically, just gave up. After all, getting fat and lazy when you get older and enter the workforce is just the norm, right?
As I entered my professional life, I thought I was getting smarter and started following some mainstream diet advice. First, I cut out all carbs and was diligently taking salads to work every day for lunch. I wouldn't even smell a piece of bread or rice. (Little did I know back then that my salads were all carbs, good ones, but carbs nonetheless). Of course, this left me hungry and would easily succumb to a protein shake or bar with endless additives. I then got more extreme and cut out fruit because all sugar is bad for you! I had no concept of whole foods and fiber. All in all, these attempts were futile as well to achieve the body type and performance level I desired, despite running around 20-30 miles a week training for a new year's resolution I had set out for myself (Completing a half marathon each month). I did have the discipline to finish the training and runs despite the beneficial diet, which is where I think I developed the grit that it would take for my overall transformation.
All in all, at the end of my first rotation as an accounting intern in the Spring of 2011, I had gained around 20 pounds and was at my heaviest weight of almost 220 pounds. This is when I said enough is enough. I was lucky enough to have a co-worker who understood the true value of nutrition and had new sources of information that I would come to find had the “real” answers. Reading and googling led me to MarksDailyApple. My coworker was the type of guy that you just assume was born with the perfect body type and could eat whatever he wanted without gaining weight. Little did I know, he was armed with extensive nutrition knowledge and had extreme work ethic in the gym. He opened my eyes to the alarming trends of increasing obesity and chronic disease leading the majority of Americans to premature death. All of this hit home pretty hard as I knew my wife and I were expecting a baby boy at the time. I was not going to be the dad that couldn’t throw a ball or got too tired after one lap around the playground or even worse, not be around at all because of one too many fast food meals.
Little by little I was introduced to, and incorporated into my diet, key principles of eating whole foods, avoiding processed food products, limiting my intake of added sugar and eliminating all beverages except tea and water. For example, after reading the harmful effects of diet soda, I dropped from as many as 5 cans a day to 0, cold turkey. It’s amazing how much flawed science is publicized with backing from industry dollars. These changes almost instantly had physical and emotional changes for the better. I no longer had hunger cravings, afternoon energy crashes, and there was no room for mindless eating. Food had a purpose. It was to be used as fuel for my body to perform. Such a simple concept: if I wanted the best performance out of my body, why not put in the best fuel. Over many years my slow adaptation to an organic, whole food lifestyle led to an amazing physical transformation that is far more than I had expected. Instilling these principles with my wife at home has had incredible effects on her as well. People ask her what her secret was after returning to pre-baby weight after giving birth to our happy and healthy baby boy, Eli. She usually just smiles and says, “I eat what Gabe feeds me”.
This is when I was hooked and wanted to learn more. I quickly turned to the science of nutrition in order to build a knowledge base to pass along to my family and friends. Currently, I am a CPA by day, but during my down time, I often have medical journals, books on metabolic pathways, or health and nutrition studies in my hands. I wanted to develop my understanding of how our bodies use food and why the way I am eating is working. I started doing CrossFit and the community aspect and workout structure is exactly what I needed as a supplement to my new lifestyle of eating. I finally found something that I truly love doing and look forward to everyday that, at the same time, directly translates into a healthier lifestyle. It’s no coincidence that nutrition is at the base of the pyramid in CrossFit’s methodology. With this new-found knowledge and being surprised with its simplicity, I felt that I owed it to my family and friends to share it. Soon I was inundated with people asking questions and seeking advice on how they too could get fit and eat healthier.
I am amazed how just changing the way I ate impacted all aspects of my life. I am now the “fit-dad” and role model for health and wellness to those around me. I never thought I would be the guy with the abs at the beach after being the kid in “husky” baseball pants. Today my goals are now to eat and perform with the intention of extending my life as much as possible. I want to be around for my wife and kids, for as long as I can be. I want to be a role model to my kids and protect them from the harmful marketing of big corporations trying to poison them with artificial colors and added sugars. My message is to hopefully simplify nutrition to its roots. Eat whole foods, in correct quantities, and avoid sugar. I am much happier with the mental transformation than the physical one. Thanks for reading my story, I hope it inspires you to write one of your own!